Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Awkward Moments1-Burial

Yes, this was one of the most awkward moments of my life. Not embarrassing, just awkward. I had just come off a week of teaching about counseling in the Institute of Childcare and Family. On a quiet morning, we prepared for church on a Sunday morning where I would be preaching on Ephesians 2:8-10 about grace and God's workmanship. Up rode our compound worker, Kintu (pronounced Chintoo). Surprised, I went to the door to greet him and patiently went through the appropriate words of welcome and care and waited the appropriate pause for him to reveal why he came on a Sunday morning since he normally only came 4 days during the work week.

"Uncle, my father died and the burial will be today. I was wondering...well...I wanted to ask...could you come?" Now if I was culturally adept and relationally sensitive, I would have said, "I will do that" and then asked when it would be. My next cultural move would have been to go get him some money to help in the burial process (necessary custom for anyone connected to the bereaved).

Being neither culturally adept nor, at that point, relationally sensitive, I just said, "I would love to, (partial lie) but I will be preaching this morning."

"Oh that's okay, the burial isn't until 4 this afternoon. Let me tell you how to get there."

So I am going to be preaching about grace and being God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and I am only thinking about the rest that would be postponed...at best. I took down the directions and said I would be there. No money changed hands. BIG but ignorant NO, NO.

3:30 rolled around and I figured I better get advice on what was expected. "Well first, you should have given him money, which is why he came over to your house besides to invite you. Second, you should be there about 10 minutes early but it is very casual and is over quickly." Uh, oh. If I left right when I got off the phone I would be there right on time (or 10 minutes late based on advice). Faux pas #2.

I started driving there quickly trying to avoid potholes that were a foot deep and 4 ft. in diameter or trying to balance my wheels on either side of a 2 foot trench eroded out of the middle of the road by heavy rainfall the day before. Now his directions concerned me a bit when he said "veer right at the round-about" but as I got to the intersection, instead of finding a round-about I found a "V" shaped intersection with a small road going off 90 degrees. I veered right and went about a mile down a very rough road to find the wrong village. I was already 5 minutes late.

I returned to the intersection and took the 90 degree road. About a 1/2 mile down I saw many people standing around and others walking in that direction. Good sign. I pulled my car over and was already getting plenty of looks. As I walked up to village central which was no more than three buildings in the near vicinity of each other, all eyes and bodies turned my direction. Conversation changed pitch with many interjections of "Muzungu (white person)" Looking around, I couldn't find anyone who seemed willing to help me but then saw some people walking in a different direction down an adjacent road. Hmmm, many people down that way. Must be the place.

"HELLO! How are you, today? You are welcome. How is home?" said a man with slurred speech. Offering his hand to me, he looked as if he were going to fall over if I didn't catch him. My mind asked, "Town drunk?" I answered, but he quickly moved on amidst laughter from the gathered community. Was that a confirmation for my mind?

I walked down to the house about 100 yds. away and many people were just standing around talking. Ahh, this is what I was looking for. A red cross on a white cloth draped over a small box with a bible on top. Only a few seated around the box. Maybe I was early. Everything in Uganda starts late. I stood there for a few moments with all eyes on me (or so it appeared) and more comments about the "Muzungu". I didn't know what to do next and no one offered to help. Finally after moving around and looking for Kintu for a short time, a woman dressed in rags with a scarf stuck in her mouth, mumbled something that resembled "come" and pointed to the bench right in front of the box with the cross.

My knowledge of the culture let me know that maybe I was receiving a place of honor for the burial service so I sat down front and center, eyes still looking at me as I looked around trying to find a glimpse of Kintu. For over twenty minutes I smiled and in Luganda politely greeted people who were near me. They were excited that I could greet in Luganda but that is as far as the conversation with me went. Immediately, they turned to their neighbor and spoke Luganda very fast with obvious references to me. I noticed many people coming and going from a place behind the house and I realized I might have missed the service but wondered why the woman had directed me here.

About ten minutes into the time, I noticed a man from our church who had been there all the time but never said a word to me. I greeted him in English and he said, "We are here for the burial of our old friend." Then proceeded to turn to his neighbor and speak Luganda with repeated references to me and New Hope. He never addressed me again. Meanwhile, I was offered a bowl of cassava cooked in a sauce of beans by a young girl on her knees (the sign of respect by any child or woman in Buganda culture). Can't turn this down even though I'm full after just eating. Ouch but it is hot to eat with my fingers.

As I was eating, people began streaming from the place behind the house and I looked earnestly for Kintu. Suddenly, as it started to rain an old man said, in Luganda, "Come into the house." and signaled to the 4 meter square house 10 ft. away which was already filled with people. As he took my bowl, I apologized and said, in English, that I was waiting for someone. That was repeated quickly in both English and Luganda and someone got my bowl back from the old man. He said sorry in Luganda and sat down to eat his own bowlful.

Just then I heard, "Uncle, you came. But you were late. Faux pas #3. I waited for you but you didn't come. Ah...but now you have come. Thank you for coming. Where did you park? Is it far?"

I asked him if he wanted to leave and apologized all over the place and told him I took a wrong road. I asked him if he wanted to leave and he said, "yes, let's go. I will show you my house." In pouring rain we ran to the car and drove the couple hundred yds. down the road picking up his wife and newborn along the way. As we pulled up to his mud hut, he asked "Are you going home?" Yes was my answer but then realized I maybe should have asked to see his house. I still don't know if I did right there. He was surprised that I was going to go in the rain, but then he didn't have a car.

As I was driving upstream through the river running down the middle of the road, I wondered how I could have done that whole thing differently. I was almost back to the town nearest us when I came across some women walking in the pouring rain. The first one waved at me like she was greeting me but the last one obviously flagged me down. They were soaked even under their umbrellas. I gave them a ride.

Thank you for humility, Lord. Thank you for the humbling circumstances but thank you that you also have good works prepared in advance for me to do all in your grace and for your glory. Oh, and thanks for the second rain in two days.

No comments:

Post a Comment